Whereas some neurotypicals might rein it in now and again or keep up a little pretence, those on the spectrum sometimes fake their whole life! Women on the spectrum in particular are expert in camouflaging, often more so than men – with the consequence that they often remain undiagnosed. Having assisted a PhD student with their thesis on camouflaging in women, I realised just how wide the gender disparity is and how common the issue is in women and girls. It is still more socially acceptable for men and boys to embrace their inner ‘nerd’ and act out all their weird and wonderful idiosyncrasies.
Girls are encouraged to replicate entire fashion or make up looks and mimic ways of being. Whilst this is not specific to autism, it is more about masking in order to fit in for those on the spectrum rather than a trend or rites of passage.
Of course, this can be quite fun! Dressing a certain way, assuming an accent or copying behaviour can be harmless fun and if it doesn’t affect you negatively there is no cause for concern. While professional actors can finish a play or a film and cast off their character, for autistic people this is a lifelong practice, and it can be exhausting. Autism ‘burn out’ can be detrimental in the long term.
While masking manifests in a myriad of ways which impact our relationships and how we evolve and mature, our perception of normal can be stretched to its limits when at work.
A person who is masking scripts and plans for a situation, rehearses entire ways of being in a specific scenario and curates just the right appearance to fit in or fulfil an idea of how to appear. So imagine if one had to mask every day for work. The constant suppression of behaviours, opinions and one’s very essence can not only cause burn out but result in long term depression, physical illness and unemployment.
This impact can shape the life of autistic person and affect earnings and career prospects which affect one’s overall sense of value and worth
It is through the world of work that many adults, perhaps especially those who were not diagnosed as children, really feel the full jarring effect of their autism. Obvious triggers such as workplace sensory stimulants can force masking, as an individual absorbs and stores up the negative experiences. But what also of the social requirements at work to fit in or progress, navigating the banter, and the ‘team building’? Or the confusion caused at what is considered common work practices which seem ineffi